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First prep practices marked by change

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Hancock County students will report to school on Wednesday, the earliest start to the academic year in modern times for local pupils, following the adoption of a balanced calendar by the four county school districts.

The Aug. 1 start is two weeks earlier than past years, and students will now have two-week fall and spring breaks.

Those classroom changes will have an effect on the playing field, where athletes gathered Monday at Eastern Hancock, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon and New Palestine for the first official day of team practices, per Indiana High School Athletic Association rules. The IHSAA hasn’t made any adjustments to its calendar in regard to the balanced or “year-round” school trend.

Under the old school docket, sports teams had two weeks of two-a-day conditioning and scrimmages before school began to prep for the season, which will begin the week of Aug. 13 for most squads. Now, with teachers (and, accordingly, most coaches) reporting to school today in advance of the students, many teams used Monday as their only two-a-day affair. Football, volleyball, soccer, cross country, girls’ golf and boys’ tennis teams will have only after-school hours to hone their skills, although a few teams might try to squeeze in a before-school morning workout.

“I don’t think any of the fall coaches like that right now,” Mt. Vernon volleyball coach Kris Lashaway said of the balanced calendar. “It took a little bit of time away and I feel rushed a little bit with it. But everybody’s going to adjust and we’ll just do what we have to do.”

Lashaway estimated that her Marauders will lose 70 hours of practice time over the next two weeks compared to past seasons because of the early start to school.

Due to the compacted nature of the school and practice kickoffs, the amount of work fall sports teams were able to accomplish in the summer was crucial.

“Even though you’re on a balanced schedule, your team schedule doesn’t change,” Lashaway said. “We’re still scrimmaging on the 7th (of August) and playing on the 13th, so we have to be ready, no matter what.

“That’s where the summer became even more important. You can’t wait until these two weeks to start getting better.”

Volleyball, like most sports, offers nearly year-round club and travel team opportunities for players. Throw in the organized high school team summer workouts and scrimmages, and there are limited windows of true vacation time for some student-athletes.

Sara Lyday believes the balanced calendar will be beneficial. The Mt. Vernon volleyball senior said she won’t mind going to school Wednesday, just two days after her first practice and two months after her junior year ended.

“It’s really not that bad,” she said. “I am kind of ready to go back. I’m really excited to have two weeks (off) after our first nine weeks, so I think it will be really good in the springtime and for fall break. We’ll have more of a break. I think it will be fine.”

With the reduction of practice hours over the next two weeks, Lyday noted it will be important to use each minute of court time to its full extent.

“I feel like we’re going to have to work really hard,” she said. “Because we’re in a rebuilding year, too, so we’re going to have to get our chemistry together and you can’t really rush something like that.

“But I think that with the extra pressure that we have it will kind of make us work harder and I think whenever you work harder, the sweat and the extra effort that you have to put in brings you closer together. I think we’ll be fine; we have a good group of girls with us.”

Alex Thomas and Jaron Pridgen were also eager to get to work Monday. Despite spending much of their spring and summer playing travel soccer, the New Palestine seniors said the first official day of high school practice remains special.

“In the summer when we’re just doing open scrimmages, you only see a small number of people and you just get together and play, but now everyone from every grade is here and you get to share that moment with them,” said Thomas, a team captain.

“For me, it’s always a big deal having the first mandatory practice and just getting the season started officially.”

Thomas commented that the first day of practice serves as a “fresh start” and a way to once and for all put the previous season in the rearview mirror.

The Dragons, after winning four straight sectional titles from 2006-09, were sent home without a championship for the second consecutive season last fall.

Pridgen, a goalkeeper, said, “The whole team was disappointed because we knew we could have done better.”

Monday’s 2012 kickoff was all about setting a positive attitude.

“The goal is to show a lot of effort in practices and that will carry over in games,” Pridgen said.

Because of their summer preparation, the Dragons’ duo believes the lack of two-a-days will not have a negative impact on the team.

Greenfield-Central football coach Roger Dodson shared a similar sentiment Monday.

In his 20th year as a head coach and seventh season at G-C, Dodson noted that regulations have changed in regard to practice and contact between coaches and players, particularly in the summer months.

“We have so much more time to work with the kids than we used to,” the veteran coach said. “If you use that time wisely, two-a-days are kind of obsolete.”

And the elimination of multiple conditioning workouts and practices per day in early August — in what is often the hottest portion of the summer — could make for a safer environment.

“Before, we’d have to do weigh-ins and really watch the guys’ weight, especially with football,” G-C athletic trainer Heather Campbell said. “They’d go in the morning and go in the evening, and now I’m not really worrying about that too much because they’re only going to be going once. It should be (safer).”

Campbell, who worked previously as an athletic trainer at New Palestine, would normally put in 80-hour work weeks during the first part of August as fall sports teams practiced multiple times throughout the day.

Obviously, she’s not complaining about the lightened workload. And lay (non-teaching) coaches have expressed the same pleasure with the lack of disruption in their family and work lives that this time of year normally brings.

As long as fall sports teams and athletes used their offseasons wisely, the early start to school shouldn’t hurt the on-the-field product.

“Pretty much all sports practice all summer now,” Campbell said. “For the most part, the kids are in shape by time we get to this point. You can easily pick out the ones that haven’t been to summer conditioning.

“At soccer this morning, you could tell. There were a few in the front (running) that are always going to be in the front, then a pretty good sized pack and then were some trailing in the back that it was like, ‘Yeah, they didn’t do anything all summer.’”

Being accountable is important for cross country runners, as well. Unlike football or soccer, for example, where it’s easier to practice with an entire unit, runners can hit the pavement any time they wish.

For that reason, Eastern Hancock coach Rex Putt wasn’t overly concerned with the lack of two-a-day opportunities.

“We should be able to adjust,” he said. “You don’t always know for sure, but the kids do have that opportunity to run on their own.

“And we’ll also do some Saturday practices to make up for some of the lost time.”

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